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A week on the move

It’s the 6th of July and we’ve not managed to find a wireless connection for nearly a week now.  I’m going to write up our blog posts offline and hopefully find somewhere to post them soon!  What a busy week.  We caught the ferry (a horrid rough crossing that made the adults feel awful while Florence just kept on running…) back to Wales 5 days ago and headed straight for Shrewsbury where we dropped back Blanco the trusty two berth camper and picked up a four berth model – also white but known simply as “Classic” by her owners, contemporarycampers.co.uk  This is our favourite one yet – a little oven, comfy beds top and bottom, with a lovely high pop-top.  With each change of camper we have culled more of our possessions which actually makes life in a regular size van that is doubling as living space for 5 people much easier.

We finally got to experience English traffic first hand on the long trip from Shrewsbury down to Dover to cross the Channel.  The trip was scheduled to take nearly four hours by the GPS but it turns out that on a summer Friday afternoon this is actually a nine hour journey, with highlights including Florence having to pee in a bucket in gridlock traffic on the M1 – we lost our flask during this event when it rolled under the car while I was trying to save the carseat from wee and couldn’t retrieve it before the traffic moved on.  We eventually made it to Kent in the late evening, passing Leeds Castle, which Bede is still desperate to visit, well after closing.  We discovered one can sleep in one’s camper in the carpark of those English servos off the motorway which was just fine with us at nearly midnight!

We did a big shop for all our favourite English yummies before getting on the Channel Tunnel train the next morning, only to be very amused by the very large Sainsbury’s sign being the first thing we saw on disembarking in Calais.  Florence thoroughly enjoyed checking out everyone’s campers in the last couple of carriages on the train – people carrying gas for cooking are segregated lest we blow the train up!

Leah nervously hit her first right-hand drive country and we were all pleasantly surprised by the very roomy French motorways, although we paid for it at the toll bridges $40 + each time we passed one.  The narrow streets in Paris were a bit more nervewracking and we were pleased to park up at the campsite in the very beautiful Bois de Bolougne.  Leah and Bede were shattered and spent the next day reading in the camper, while Florence, Emmett and I braved the 3 hour wait for the Eiffel Tower.  This has been one of the experiences Emmett has been looking forward to for our whole trip.  He is very interested in architecture and he actually managed to spend most of the wait in awe of the building!  I must politely thank our lucky stars Bede was not present as queues are NOT his favourite thing and it would have been less pleasant!  The view from the top was great and we found the sign saying NZ was 18900km in this direction.  So we’re a long way from home!

Over the next couple of days we saw the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Louvre where the kids were very impressed by Napoleon’s opulent suites and many displays of weaponry from round the world.  Florence liked the Horses of Marly.  We joined the huge queue to see the Mona Lisa and had fun watching the crowds.  I was disappointed not to get to Montmartre but Leah and I are planning a future, somewhat quieter trip through Europe in about 20 years so we want to leave some surprises!

Today was a long travel day, we covered over 600km and tonight we’re tucked up in a peaceful camping ground in Basel, Switzerland.  It’s very hot and the freezing pool was welcome after our delicious dinner.  We’ve been really enjoying French fresh vegetables and fruit – I love having 15 choices of onions and fingerling potatoes on display at the grocers and fresh sweet warm delicious apricots and nectarines.  We’ve been getting croissants and pain au chocolat from the campsite bakery in Paris for breakfast and taking out fresh cheese and a baguette for lunch.  I wonder what we’ll find in Basel in the morning – back to pancakes for breakfast cos the kids are complaining about missing them but I’m hoping for a market for a fresh lunch!

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We are in London!

Arrived at 5.30am after an all-nighter flight, kids slept pretty well, Anna got a couple of hours, Leah next to no sleep. Emmett did his now routine to all of us early morning vomit after interrupted sleep (the woman across the aisle looked very impressed when I put the sick bag under his mouth before he even fully woke up…), luckily Emmett is completely unconcerned by this and feels fine after he’s sick.

No problems on the underground, someone even helped us get our bags off! We dropped our bags at the hotel and since we couldn’t check in till after two wandered up to Kensington Gardens and wound up there till 4pm. The kids just loved the soft grass, the trees and the lovely Princess Diana Memorial Playground, which is huge, has a secure fence, a lovely sensory area and lots of climbing and playing things.

So despite a bad night, a delicious day, in cool refreshing London. The area around Kensington Gardens reminds me of Dunedin in climate today, buildings and gardens. We feel very much at home. We’ve got lovely fresh baguette and cheese for dinner and I’m sure we’ll all sleep like logs!

If Bede can stay awake long enough he’ll have to share his very special story about our day in Nairobi – which turned out even better than expected in some ways!

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Well, I’m next in line for the bath but had the others!  A long day on the bus to Nairobi today, but staying in a lovely Guesthouse that has all the essentials and rustled up a lovely meal of pasta and rich tomato sauce for us along with lots of vegetables!  Just what we needed!

The children were very sad to say goodbye to their calves this morning (sorry Norah, we couldn’t pull off special delivery to NZ plus the calves are boys and I’d want a milking cow…).  It’s been interesting that we have all really enjoyed our time in Kenya, the farm was a really lovely relaxed place to stay.  Under other circumstances, having the camera stolen and money taken from our room would be enough to put us off an experience, but we still left with lots of happy memories and the boys were asking when we could come back before we’d bumped our way down the dirt track to the main road (after they raced back to get Leah’s handbag – still hanging in our room…).

I found the mobile medical clinics really rewarding and interesting.  The typical presentation was someone who, when asked what I could help with, would begin by holding the head, then clutching the lower back, before grabbing the elbows, then the knees, then the chest.  I barely needed the translator to say, “Headache, backache, joint pains and cough”.  These are the long term outcome of farming, drinking next to no water during long hot days and cooking over an open fire with no chimney indoors.  We also treated lots of malaria and typhoid and other exotic tropical things.  When I can find a decent internet connection I’ll have to post some photos of one of my unfortunate colleagues feet – he experienced “Jiggers” or pig fleas first hand, these wee creatures burrow into the skin around the nails and produce lots of eggs and then larvae, we just thought we had a nail infection till the locals showed us the wee worms under the skin!!!!

Kenya reminds me of New Zealand because it is very green with lots of mountains and hills.  There has been mass deforestation here over the last 50 years which is threatening lives and livelihood as well as the fantastic wildlife.  Living rurally without running water and with minimal electricity – only a couple of hours each night when the generator was running – has really informed my desire to live a simple life.  I want a simple life WITH the good parts of modern technology.  I now know first hand how hard it is to pump and carry large quantities of water for a family of 5 and how grubby a room gets with no paving outside, unglazed windows and 5 muddy footed people coming in and out all day.  Part of coming to Cambodia and Kenya to volunteer was to see if we could manage to do something similar for a longer period – say 6 months – with three kids in tow.  The kids love it, but Leah and I realise we’d need to be able to cook for our own family to survive more than a few weeks and we’d be choosing which organisation to give our time to very carefully, the mobile clinics were very interesting but rather a sticking plaster solution and I’d prefer to be part of something with a more permanent effect f I returned for longer.  It’ll be a few years before we’ll be ready to up sticks again for more travel after this big adventure anyways – we miss our home and garden and most of all our extended family and friends in NZ!

Tomorrow is a big day, seeing as many of Nairobi’s attractions as we can.  Hopefully Bede will manage to update you afterwards – he’s listened to Born Free on his ipod today in preparation for the Joy Adamson exhibition at the Museum.  We fly to London late tomorrow night – I’ve been carefully planning the underground route to our hotel with 3 kids and 6 bags – apparently they’ve never permanently lost a child on the underground so we should be fine!

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We were playing cops and robbers and Emmett caught me, he walked backwards and almost fell in a 6 meter deep hole, but luckily there were logs over the hole and all he got was a few scratches.  I’m so grateful that someone thought of putting the logs over the hole.  I think Papa would faint at a glance of the roads in Kenya.

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Emmett’s Blog Post

I woke up and I made a top for Flo with blue string and green string. And I made a book out of sellotape, staples, string and paper. And then I fixed Bede’s hammock. I made a bow and arrow.

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Kenya appears to me after ten days to be a land of contradictions. The countryside we drive to isolated rural medical clinics through is lush and grows sugar cane, every small farm has corn, underplanted with beans, roadside stalls sell gorgeous red onions, fruit, tomatoes and brassicas. Yet at each clinic I see starving, malnourished children and adults. The children universally have Kwashiorkor – protein deficiency, everyone is severely anaemic.

I have not quite been able to work out why these farming people are starving while growing so much good food. Our driver tells us “In the old days, when our old people lived longer…” so I’m not sure whether it was Kenyan independence from British rule in the early 1960s that caused the collapse of the rural communities or something more recent.

The staple here is ugali, a maize meal very like polenta, most families have hot tea for breakfast, followed by ugali alone for lunch and dinner, despite growing beans and brassicas they don’t commonly eat them. The teachers volunteering here tell us that in school the curriculum specifically teaches that eating ugali is vital to the Kenyan economy and much is made of eating lots of it being the only way to succeed academically.

Women have no status in rural Kenya, little access to education or contraception or independent income, domestic abuse is widespread.

At each rural clinic, which are held in schools or churches, I have been approached by people raising money for a new church or to make the existing one better. There is a church about every 200m! I am most uncomfortable that community leaders are raising money for churches while children starve. The stark contrast between the teachings of the church and the behaviours of the people is also confronting, corruption is endemic, at every police checkpoint, within the organisation with which we are volunteering, in every transaction in the town.

To illustrate my own hypocrisy however, I must point out that while the local kids starve, I am sooo sick of endless rice and cabbage for dinner and lunch every day and am having trouble being grateful for that!

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Ta Prohm Temple

Wow!  We had a lovely afternoon at Ta Prohm today.  When we visited Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the two most touristed and accessible temples on Saturday we found it very difficult to manage to boys who alternated between manic excitement at the height and steepness of the stairs and boredom at the history given by the guide ( the guide was in fact great, the kids were just – fairly poorly behaved – kids).  Today we went without a guide to Ta Prohm, which meant we could go more at our own pace, exploring interesting nooks and crannies.

We were accosted at the entrance by small children offering their wares making it nearly impossible to even get out of the tuktuk.  These are 5-10 year old rural dwelling kids and we choose not to give them money as the kids here are quite exploited by their parents and others because they are so appealing to foreigners.  Kids can earn $300 a month from begging which is ten times what the average rural parent would earn working, so some families even keep their kids hungry to make them look more needy to tourists.  It is not a pleasant side of the tourism here.  Emmett especially is just totally overwhelmed by kids coming at him from all sides.  We give our aid money to organisations working with rural kids and offer the kids fruit which they get to eat not give to someone else.

Ta Prohm is amazing because the jungle nearly reclaimed it so it has these amazing huge trees growing around and through the temple, it is like a fantastic adventure dream!  The boys loved it and found it much more exciting for all its fallen down bits of trees in the brickwork.  A joint Indian – Cambodian team is working to restore some parts of the temple but the trees will be left where they are.  We have learnt quite a bit of Buddhist and Hindu mythology and history looking through the temples and the kids can now identify Vishnu and Shiva and their symbols in the temples.  Most Buddha images were defaced during a resurgence of Hindu belief centuries ago so Florence is constantly saying “Uh-oh, Buddha no head…”  Cambodia has had a mix of both Buddhism and Hinduism in its history so the temples show both in an interesting mix.

We had a stop to feed bananas to monkeys on our way back to town which was very popular with the kids!  We also crossed a bridge with some piles of stones beside it and on looking more closely (mainly because 3 cute kids were waving from one of the piles) we realised they were indeed ancient piles of a previous bridge a thousand years ago.  We found a lovely (read not completely revolting muddy and full of garbage) swimming hole with local kids swimming but as yet are not brave enough to throw our kids in, just in case they catch something they aren’t immune to.  Although giardia is probably the worst they’d get and they’ve been swimming in the Manawatu all their lives which is up there as the third most polluted river in the world I believe (on looks alone though I suspect whoever rated the Manawatu didn’t measure the pollution in the Siem Reap river…)

I’m going to escape with no kids sometime to check out the Children’s Hospital which provides free care to all Cambodian kids, funded largely by donations, including ones made by the audience at each Saturday night cello performance by the head paediatrician Beat Richner.  The lines of people waiting to be seen go right down the road and our tuktuk driver tells us people wait about two days to see a doctor.  So my patients have nothing to complain about!

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